It always seemed to me that my body was something very physical and dense. It was as if I was encapsulated, contained and even imprisoned within this hard, thick, impenetrable physical shell and that the body was separate from the mind. The mind seemed much more ephemeral than the body. The mind seemed to be made only of these pesky little things called thoughts that would come and go. Through resting and noticing thoughts, they seemed to be transparent. The mind and the self that seemed to be held within it could not be found. Just these arisings of thoughts happening in space. That felt like the final awakening. It wasn’t….
The body seemed like something else entirely, way too physical, for lack of a better word, to even investigate. I suppose that is why some on the spiritual path really don’t investigate it. It houses all sorts of things like addiction, anxiety, emotion, repressed emotion, trauma and contractions. For me, the body seemed like an unfortunate limitation – something I just had to deal with during my time on earth. And as I grew older, losing my once well-defined swimmer’s body, the body seemed even more useless, like a dangling appendage that was slowly withering away towards death and disintegration. And at the age of 40, I began to experience the usual aches and pains that come with age. It all seemed to doom me to being at the mercy of needing to run away from the body. 40 years of running, with 40 more on the way. Yikes!
Because the body is the storehouse of all these issues, I began to see what I had been doing for most of my life and also what most other people are doing. We are doing everything we can possibly do to avoid or escape being fully and consciously embodied. We have developed elaborate ways to avoid and escape. Here are just a few of those ways (and I’ve done most of them):
1. Seeking something outside ourselves (drugs, enlightenment, success, love, caffeine, etc) to medicate the uncomfortableness of being an embodied human.
2. Becoming really intelligent, loading up our brains with elaborate conceptual frameworks and labels about everything. In doing so, it allows us to spend most of our time and attention in thoughts, which is like a place of safety so that we don’t have to feel what its really like to be an embodied human and experience the vulnerability and intimacy of relationship.
3. Constantly trying to change the physical appearance of the body through diet, exercise and even eating disorders to avoid the deep inner pain of feeling wounded and not good enough in a world that values physical appearance very highly. Spending enormous amounts of money, time and energy trying to stop the aging process. In many cases, all these efforts fail to actually relieve this inner suffering.
4. Dissociating entirely from trauma and other conditions in the body that are just too painful to face. I’ve sat with people who have developed the ability to flee their bodies at the first sign of anxiety or trauma.
5. Resting in an awakened state that is not embodied, which just sets the course for conditioning to still run the show in one way or another.
I’ve worked with people at the Kiloby Center who walk into our doors with a vacancy in their bodies. One look into their eyes reveals a lifetime of seeking to be anything other than human. Some come to the Center after years of drug or alcohol abuse, eating disorders or trauma. Their eyes and their energy tell the story, “It is too much to be conscious in my body.” They are fidgety, unsettled and restless, waiting for the next opportunity to escape the present uncomfortable sensation or emotion. One of the most challenging things we ask clients at the Center to do is sit quietly alone in a room, without a cell phone, computer, food, TV or anything else. This is when the unsettledness of being an embodied human really begins to surface. Everything in their system screams, “NO, I can’t be here all alone with this body!” In between sessions, there is a strong urge to run back to the cell phone, IPAD, telephone, TV, work, food, drugs, attention from others, etc. Anything to escape….
Spiritual seekers often present the same kind of vacancy and restless body as those addicted to drugs and other substances. Many come to the Center after having had a powerful awakening experience. They too often present the same kind of vacancy and restlessness. Sometimes they are so busy trying to convince staff that they are awake that they ignore the actual energy of defense that comes up in their bodies when that notion is challenged. It appears that the nondual teachings, or at least many of them, have done a bit of a disservice to the seekers and finders of the world, promising something akin to a nonconceptual being or presence that will somehow sweep away all suffering in mind and body. The promise does not deliver quite often. The proof is in the vacant eyes and restless energy that cannot simply sit and be for any length of time. I’ve seen people who seem clear that there is no self or even who walk around claiming they are awake but who are still experiencing the very real effects of unexamined addiction, repressed emotion, contractions, anxiety, compulsion and trauma in the body. Our bodies remember suffering, even when we claim to have transcended it.
At the Center, we spend a good deal of time on the usual presence practices that involve seeing through self. But this is only one part of the formula of awakening. It’s a part that is wholly inadequate to fully meet and release the suffering housed within the body after years of living on the earth. An awakening experience itself is merely the first step. It takes a while for the body to catch up.
Now, back to my body… The reason I share about these folks who come to our Center is because I can relate entirely to what they are going through. I have lived a life of trying to escape or transcend the experience of body with all its attendant emotions, sensations, contractions, traumas, etc. I get it, completely, because I have lived it.
I wish I could say that I found a way to recognize presence without having to investigate the body. I wish I could say what so many other teachers have said, like “You are not your body.” But when I heard one teacher say that and then smoke cigarettes until he died from it, I realized I didn’t want to go down that route. I know what it is like to be addicted. It is very much about being identified with a body. Saying “I am not my body” while being identified, addicted, traumatized or anxious on some level is just lip service. The body remembers the truth, even when the mouth is lying.
As I said, my body once felt dense, physical and restless. I had to meet every sensation as it arose, with the kind of quiet, restfulness that has no agenda to change a single thing about any sensation. Sure, there have been times when I wanted to change the way I felt. But it didn’t work. I tried so many times in so many ways. Nothing ever worked. I tried every addiction. I tried to avoid having to look at the trauma of being bullied as a kid. I tried dismissing the anxiety I was feeling. I tried believing that an initial awakening was somehow enough to really abide in peace and freedom. It was all a con job. And I was only conning myself.
There came a point when all the madness and all the running away from the body was seen to be absolutely futile. There was no way to escape the experience of living as a human with a body. Something had to change. The change came through this inner investigation of the body.
When I would see or feel the body, I began to notice that what I was really looking at was not a physical container at all. It was a combination of sensation, emotion, words and pictures. But damn it did feel physical at first. As I examined the stomach or the throat, I just kept seeing an image and feeling a sensation that came with it. I just did nothing – nothing but being conscious of that picture or that energy. Inquiry helped tremendously in stopping the desire to change how I felt. The whole game of fixing was seen as futile. From that point on, it was just a process of being conscious of these sensations, emotions, words and pictures and doing nothing with them. Being conscious of them and allowing them to float freely was enough. They began to be seen as temporary arisings, just like thoughts. I realized that a lifetime of paying no attention to these inner arisings only led back to the seeking, medicating and dissociating. It was time to pay attention
This exploration became so intimate, tender and gentle, like falling in love with every sensation and every thought about the body. A complete surrender to all of that as it arose. I would gently feel into the body all over all the time, throughout the day. It truly became a love affair. I started to see that all my life I had been looking for attention, love and everything else outside of myself. I was just looking for something to change how I felt, for someone to love my body, my experience. I realized that this is my job, not someone else’s. Looking for that outside myself is next to impossible. And it’s so indirect and inefficient to think that something outside of me will comfort and love my experience. It’s up to me to do that.
Now, before I go any farther, it wasn’t “me” doing it. It wasn’t as if the story of Scott embraced the body. A story can only think about a body. It cannot fully experience it. The body was embraced from a thought-free place at some point, once many of the thoughts came to rest. This was a resting that had no words. I call this conscious embodiment, when we no longer rely on our minds and our sense of self in order to know our bodies. We just feel them directly, through presence, every nook and cranny of them. To experience the body that intimately and directly is to see through it entirely. It is to be so fully conscious that there is no more running away and nothing to run from anyway.
My body began to feel and look like a cartoon, a play of ghost images and sensations coming and going, with no solidity to them. This is still my experience, to be intimately aware of body along with everything else in life – the sounds, the colors, the space, the trees, everything. It is so sweet to love experience so much that escaping and avoiding just makes no sense anymore.
At the danger of putting a carrot out here, I will say this. It is well worth it to explore embodiment, to move from identification with the physical body to a sweet and loving inclusion of the entire bodily experience, without identifying with it anymore. Dare I say, it is blissful to take awakening that deeply. If you see that as a carrot, just notice the seeking behind that thought. That seeking is an escape route. Question it. I’m just sharing my experience. Not trying to indulge more seeking and projection.
I have no idea what people are talking about when they talk about awakening without the conscious embodiment aspect. I can only imagine that they are talking about a head awakening, where there is a sense of space or headlessness. I couldn’t settle for that. My body wouldn’t let me. It was screaming to wake up too. For those who disagree about the prospect of awakening in the body, I can only imagine that you too are suffering like I did, and like so many people do, with all sorts of things happening in the body that are discarded, avoided or escaped – with the vacant restlessness living at the core of your experience. Do you experience addiction? Is there an underlying sense of anxiety at a low level? Are you unable to sit and just be for any length of time? Are you attracted to elaborate conceptual frameworks? Are you defending those concepts a lot? Consider the real possibility that you have skipped over the embodiment aspect and that skipping doesn’t work. It just prolongs the inevitable realization that the only way out is through. I’m merely offering the opportunity to no longer skip over our human experience.
When you drop out of the skipping business, you drop out of all the escape routes. You drop out of the restlessness and vacancy. You simply drop in, seeing that there was never anything to escape in the first place.
Dropping in shows you that your body and life are inseparable. All that seeking and escaping through thinking was just a reminder to feel, accept and allow what felt like too much. It is not too much, whatever you are feeling. It’s just your body saying “pay attention to me instead of looking everywhere else for relief that cannot be found – I am your relief.”
Every life is a work of fiction. That’s what I tell my memoir students. People come to me wanting to tell their life story, the narrative that sums them up, the myth that captures their essence.
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